Thursday, October 28, 2010

Franklin Roosevelt's Royal Hot Dog Diplomacy

When Franklin D. Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States in June of 1939, the significance of the invitation reportedly did not go unnoticed. Ever since America declared its independence from England in 1776, "the United States and Great Britain had oftentimes experienced tense relations, but Roosevelt's invitation carried great significance in the history of Anglo-American relations, not only because of their colonial past, but more importantly, because it signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation.”

With Europe on the brink of war, Roosevelt realized the need to forge closer ties between the two democracies and he reportedly “planned every minute detail of the visit to ensure the King’s success in winning over the sympathy and support of the American people." His efforts apparently paid off. According to historians at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Americans heartily welcomed England's royalty with thunderous applause and adulation when the King and Queen arrived in Washington on June 8, 1939. Crowds lined the streets for a chance to glimpse the King and Queen as they traveled throughout the city. In Washington, the couple was treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State Visit. There was an afternoon reception at the British Embassy, followed by a formal evening of dining and musical entertainment at the White House.

On their second day, the King and Queen took in the sights of DC as they boarded the presidential yacht and sailed up the Potomac River to George Washington's Mount Vernon and to Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After two days in Washington, the...royal couple accompanied the Roosevelts to their home in Hyde Park, New York [where]...they enjoyed the simpler things in life. In contrast to the formal State Dinner at the White House, dinner at the Roosevelt's home...was described to the press as a casual dinner between the two families.


Even more informal was the following day's event - an old-fashioned, American-style picnic which included the following menu items: Virginia Ham, Smoked Turkey, Cranberry Jelly, Green Salad, Sodas, Beer and...Hot Dogs!

The next day, news of the picnic made the front page of the New York Times, under the headline, “KING TRIES HOT DOG AND ASKS FOR MORE.” While the King reportedly ate his hot dog by hand like an American, the Queen daintily cut hers with a knife and fork.

Although the royal visit was surely the high point of the Roosevelt's 1939 social season, the president and the king also discussed the dire political and military situation developing in Europe. Equally important to Roosevelt, however, was that the visit "changed the perceptions of the American people, which in turn allowed him to do more for Britain. When England declared war on Germany three months later, Americans, due in no small part to the King and Queen's visit, sympathized with England's plight. Britons were no longer strangers or the evil colonial rulers from the past but familiar friends and relatives with whom Americans could identify."

For their part, the Royal Couple was deeply appreciative of the Roosevelt’s efforts and of the outpouring of support from the American people. In a letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, the Queen later wrote:

I must tell you how moved I have been by the many charming, sympathetic, and understanding letters which I have received from kind people in the United States. Quite poor people have enclosed little sums of money to be used for our wounded, our sailors, or mine sweepers. It really has helped us, to feel such warmth of human kindness and goodness, for we still believe truly that humanity is overall.

Sometimes, during the last terrible months, we have felt rather lonely in our fight against evil things, but I can honestly say that our hearts have been lightened by the knowledge that friends in America understand what we are fighting for. We look back with such great pleasure to those lovely days we spent with you last June. We often talk of them, and of your & the President's welcome & hospitality. The picnic was great fun, and our children were so thrilled with the descriptions of the Indian singing & marvelous clothes - not to mention the hot dogs!


Although the picnic appeared to be a casual affair, much fuss had been made in advance of it. Almost a month before the event, Eleanor Roosevelt expressed concern about it in her newspaper column called "My Day." In an entry dated May 25, 1939, she wrote: Oh dear, oh dear, so many people are worried that the dignity of our country will be imperiled by inviting Royalty to a picnic, particularly a hot dog picnic! My mother-in-law has sent me a letter which begs that she control me in some way...Let me assure you, dear readers, that if it is hot there will be no hot dogs, and even if it is cool there will be plenty of other food, and the elder members of the family and the more important guests will be served with due formality.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Parties at the White House

To celebrate their first Halloween at White House last year, First Lady Michelle Obama got into the spirit by dressing as a leopard, with furry ears, dramatic cat like eyes, and a spotted orange-and-black animal print top. For his part, President Obama played it safe, dressing as, well, “a middle-aged dad, with a black cardigan, checkered shirt and sensible brown slacks.”

According to the Washington Post, about 2,600 trick-or-treaters from local schools “swooped, skulked and pitter-pattered their way through the front drive of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping at the North Portico to get their treat: a plastic baggy containing White House M&Ms, an orange sugar cookie in the shape of the residence, and clumps of [dried] apricots, apples and papayas.”

Meanwhile, wandering around in front of the orange-lit White House were hundreds of odd creatures, including musicians dressed as skeletons, walking trees, Star Wars characters, and dancers dressed as red and gold butterflies inside giant bubbles.

Before casually chatting with the trick-or-treaters, President Obama and the First Lady hosted a Halloween reception for military families in the East Room of the White House. In his brief welcoming remarks, the president acknowledged the many sacrifices made by military families and said, “'We are so grateful to you. Especially now, a lot of the times, you guys are separated. It's tough. The spouses who are at home are serving just as much as folks who are deployed. So we are just so thrilled that you guys could be here.”

Of course, this wasn't the first Halloween event held at the White House. Known for her playful personality, Mamie Eisenhower hosted a Halloween party for the wives of White House staff members. Described as “the most interesting party ever given in the dignified setting of the White House,” it included “skeletons hanging from the State Dining Room chandeliers and witches on broomsticks riding over the white tablecloth.”

In more recent years, Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia hosted a Halloween party for underprivileged children while the Fords and Carters welcomed trick-or-treaters from charitable organizations like UNICEF. And, in 1989, President George Bush and his wife Barbara treated 500 local school children to a Halloween party, where they loaded them up with treats and taught them about the dangers of drugs.

FAST FACT: Although know one knows exactly how the Obamas plan to celebrate Halloween this year, we do know that the holiday had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. According to historians at the Library of Congress, “the wearing of costumes and roaming from door-to-door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink." This practice is called mumming, from which the modern-day practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures are among the favorite disguises worn by children each Halloween!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ulysses S. Grant's Twenty-Nine Course Banquets

"The inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 did more than usher into the Presidency an honored war hero," according to historian Poppy Cannon, it launched an era of opulence in the White House "the United States had not seen before and has seldom seen since."

Culinarily speaking, however, Grant’s first few months in office could hardly be described as extravagant. When the 46-year-old military hero moved into the White House, he brought with him a quartermaster from his army days to serve as cook. To her credit, Grant’s wife Julia refrained from complaining at first, but when it became clear that the "chef" viewed the White House dining room as little more than “an enlarged mess hall,” she replaced him with an Italian steward named Valentino Melah, who had catered for some of the finest hotels in the United States and "specialized in opulent banquents."

Describing a particular twenty-nine course State Banquet at the Grant White House, Emily Edson Briggs, a Washington newspaper columnist, wrote:

In the beginning of the feast, fruit, flowers, and sweetmeats grace the tables, while bread and butter only give a Spartan simplicity to the "first course," which is composed of a French vegetables oul, and according to the description by those who have tasted it, no soup, foreign or domestic, has ever been known to equal it.

The ambrosial soup is followed by a French croquet of meat...The third "course" of the dinner is composed of a fillet of beef, flanked on each side by potatoes the size of a walnut, with plenty of mushrooms to keep them company. The next course is...made up entirely of luscious leg of partridges, and baptized by a French name entirely beyond my comprehension.

It will readily be seen that a full description of the twenty-nine courses would be altogether too much for the healthy columns of a newspaper to bear, so we pass to the dessert...[which] is inaugurated by...a rice pudding [that] would make our grandmothers clap their hands with joy. After the rice pudding, canned peaches, pears, and quinces are served. Then follow confectionery, nuts, ice-cream, coffee, and chocolate...


Although President Grant enjoyed partaking in such opulent banquets, he retained a taste for more basic fare, no doubt shaped by his old soldier's days. One of his favorite breakfasts reportedly consisted of "broiled Spanish mackerel and steak, fried apples with bacon, buckwheat cakes, and a cup of strong black coffee."

At lunch and dinner, he enjoyed such simple meals as roast beef with wheat bread and boiled hominy. And for dessert, historians tell us that "nothing ever pleased President Grant as much as simple rice pudding."

Although Grant's favorite recipe for Rice Pudding may have been lost to posterity, you can try this delicious recipe from simplyrecipes.com which is great to serve at breakfast or as a light dessert:

2 1/2 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup of uncooked short grain white rice
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the milk, rice and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, a tablespoon at a time, vigorously whisking to incorporate.

Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10minutes or so, until thickened. Be careful not to have the mixture come to a boil at this point. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and cinnamon. Serve warm or cold and enjoy!

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gerald Ford, the Watergate Scandal, and Golden Brown Waffles with Strawberries and Cream

At approximately12:05 p.m. on August 9, 1974, only moments after Richard Nixon officially resigned from the Office of the Presidency, Gerald Ford took the Oath of Office and delivered his first presidential remarks in the East Room of the White House.

After pledging to be "the President of all the people" and reaffirming his belief that "honesty is always the best policy in the end," Ford turned his attention to the Watergate scandal and said:

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

In the beginning, I asked you to pray for me. Before closing, I ask again your prayers, for Richard Nixon and for his family. May our former President, who brought peace to millions, find it for himself. May God bless and comfort his wonderful wife and daughters, whose love and loyalty will forever be a shining legacy to all who bear the lonely burdens of the White House.


For the next four weeks, the new president enjoyed a high approval rating, partly because the Fords appeared to be such a normal, middle-class American family. Upon moving into the White House, Ford’s teenage daughter Susan vowed to never throw away her blue jeans. His wife Betty was down-to-earth and had a good sense of humor. And President Ford was even photographed "showing off his English-muffin-making skills" in the Family Kitchen at the White House.

Recalling Ford's fondness for English muffins and his other favorite breakfast foods, White House Chef Henry Haller wrote:

President Ford had a healthy appetite and simple tastes. For breakfast, the President usually consumed an energy rich, high carbohydrate meal that included freshly squeezed orange juice, a piece of fresh fruit such as melon, one or two toasted English muffins with margarine and jam, and hot tea.

Sunday breakfast was always a special meal in the Ford's home, however, with the President's favorite: Golden Brown Waffles served with "the works" - strawberries and sour cream.


If you'd like to make some of President Ford's favorite Golden Brown Waffles with Strawberries and Sour Cream for your next Sunday breakfast, here is the original recipe from The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller:

1 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cups milk, room temperature
1/2 teaspooon vaniall extract
3 egg yolks
5 tabllespoons melted butter
3 egg whites room tempertaure
1 pint fresh strawberrries, lightly dusted with sugar
1 pint sour cream

Into a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Using the back of a wooden spoon, make a deep well in the center of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine milk, vanialla, egg yolks, and melted butter. Pour rapidly into the center of the dry ingredients and combine quickly, using a whisk.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter.
Transfer batter to a pitcher for easy pouring. Heat a waffle iron to medium temperature. Pour in batter until grid is two-thirds full. Close the lid of the waffle iron and bake for 4 minutes or until steam stops emerging and waffle is golden brown. Remove gently. Repeat baking process to make five more waffles. Serve hot, accompanied by bowls of sweetened strawberries and sour cream.

FAST FACT: Although President Ford initially enjoyed high approval ratings, the mood of the nation changed dramatically on September 8, 1974, when he granted Richard Nixon a full pardon for all federal crimes he had "committed or may have committed" in the White House. The response was “a tidal wave of criticism” which all but assured Ford’s defeat to Jimmy Carter in the election of 1976. But, as time passed, critics began to see that Ford’s pardon was both noble and necessary to help the nation heal. In 1999, Bill Clinton conferred on Ford the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Ford also received the Congressional Gold Medal and was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award in 2001.

Credit: President Gerald R. Ford, Oil on Canvas by Everett Raymond Kinstler, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Warren Harding, the Roaring Twenties, and the Development of Finger Foods

Although kind and well-liked, Warren Harding is often ranked as the worst president in American history, and even he admitted to close friends that "the job was beyond him." Aware of his limitations, Harding appointed some very capable and intelligent men to his cabinet, including Charles Evans Hughes as secretary of state and Herbert Hoover as secretary of commerce.

Unfortunatley, Harding also surrounded himself with an "unpleasant group of dishonest cheats," who came to be known as "the Ohio Gang." According to historians at the Miller Center:

Warren’s close friend and political manager, Harry Daugherty, whom he named attorney general, was one of the worst - and one of the slickest. He survived impeachment attempts by Congress and two indictments for defrauding the government in the disposal of alien property confiscated by his office from German nationals. Another schemer, Albert Fall, secretary of the interior, secretly allowed private oil companies to tap the Teapot Dome oil reserve in Wyoming and the Elk Hills oil reserve in California in return for least $300,000 paid to him in bribes.


Whether Harding was aware of his advisors' crimes beforehand is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that he loved to play card games and drink whiskey with them at the White House in private defiance of Prohibition.

Describing the scene at one of Harding's card games that she encountered, Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, wrote: "the air heavy with tobacco smoke, trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey, cards and poker chips ready at hand – a general atmosphere of waistcoat unbuttoned, feet on the desk, and spittoons alongside."

Meanwhile, as President Harding was downing whiskey with his advisors at the White House, millions of ordinary Americans were drinking at secret taverns and bars called speakeasies, a popular term during Prohibition used to describe an establishment that sold illegal alcoholic beverages. According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink:

In order to gain entrance to [a speakeasy], you had to speak in a low voice through a small opening in the back door and tell the attendant inside who it was who sent you to the place. The term itself...may derive from the English "Speak-softly-shop," an underworld term for a smuggler's house where one might get liquor cheaply, its usage in this sense having been traced back to 1823.

But with the onset of Prohibition in America, speakeasies sprang up overnight, sometimes in shabby sections of town, but often in the best neighborhoods, and many of these establishments were actually fine restaurants in their own right. New York's "21" club was a speakeasy during this period and had two bars, a dance floor, an orchestra, and dining rooms on two floors...French diplomat Paul Morande, visiting New York for the first time in 1925, reported his experience at a speakeasy: "the food is almost always poor, the service deplorable."


It was during this period (often referred to today as the Roaring Twenties) that the custom of throwing cocktail parties at home also became popular. The rise of cocktail parties, in turn, inspired the development of finger foods, which worked well for tipsy guests who jiggled Gin Fizzes, Whiskey Smashes, and other popular cocktails while mingling with others in loud, crowded rooms.

Some popular finger foods of the Roaring Twenties included Lobster Canapés, Shrimp and Crabmeat Cocktails, Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Caviar Rolls, Oyster Toast, and Savory Cheese Balls. For his part, President Harding reportedly liked to serve Bratwurst Rolls and Frankfurts with Saurkraut at his many cocktail parties at the White House.

If you’d like to serve up some Bratwurst Rolls at your next cocktail party, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from epicurious.com

1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (optional)
3 to 4 (12-ounce) cans cheap beer
8 bratwurst links
8 small, crusty hoagie rolls
whole-grain mustard
dill pickle spears

Prepare the grill for a medium-hot fire. Place the butter in a medium disposable foil roasting pan. Place the pan on the grill rack and cook until the butter melts. Add the onions and garlic (if using). Cook until softened, three to five minutes. Add the beer and bring to a simmer. Place the pan on the low heat zone and keep the onion mixture warm.

Place the bratwurst on the grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, until evenly charred, four to five minutes. Transfer the bratwurst to the onion mixture and let stand until ready to serve. With tongs, place the bratwurst in the rolls. Serve with the onions, mustard, and pickle spears.

FOOD FACT: Some of the mass-manufactured foods introduced during the Roaring Twenties include the Baby Ruth Candy Bar, Wonder Bread, Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drinks, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Welch's Grape Jelly, Popsicles, Hostess Snack Cakes, Kool-Aid, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, and Velveeta Cheese!